Ecuador will hold six Colombian men for at least a month as the country probes their involvement in the slaying of a presidential candidate whose life’s work was fighting crime and corruption, the national prosecutor’s office said Friday. A public ceremony to mourn Fernando Villavicencio was held Friday in the capital convention center, while a separate funeral service was being held for relatives. “People need to know that his family’s in danger and we can’t go to such a big event,” the victim’s daughter, Tamia Villavicencio, told reporters outside the cemetery. The Colombian men were arrested Wednesday in connection with Villavicencio’s killing in the capital, Quito, earlier in the day. The men, whose nationalities were announced late Thursday, will be detained for at least 30 days in the investigation, but will almost certainly be held for months or years as the case plays out. They face as many as 26 years in prison each. Villavicencio was not a front-runner in the race, but his assassination in broad daylight less than two weeks before a special presidential election shocked the country and demonstrated how surging crime will challenge Ecuador’s next leader. Violence linked to gangs and cartels have claimed thousands of lives in the past few years. The suspects were captured hiding in a house in Quito, according to an arrest report reviewed by The Associated Press. Law enforcement officers seized four shotguns, a 5.56-mm rifle, ammunition and three grenades as well as a vehicle and one motorcycle, the report said. Investigators said they found 64 shell casings at the scene of the shooting. Villavicencio, 59, had said he was threatened by affiliates of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, one of a slew of international organized crime groups that now operate in Ecuador. He said his campaign represented a threat to such groups. Armed Colombian groups have long used the porous border with Ecuador to hide from the authorities in a region scarred by both cocaine trafficking and deadly political battles between Colombian factions and state forces. With almost 400 miles (640 kilometers) of Pacific coast, shipping ports and some key exports, Ecuador has been turned by international traffickers from a minor player in the drug business into a hub for the smuggling of cocaine from neighboring Colombia and Peru. A lack of opportunities and decades of conflict have produced some of the world’s most renowned hired guns. Colombian assassins – known as sicarios – made headlines for decades in their own country for waves of high-profile killings. Perhaps the most notable case was the killing of presidential candidate and former leftist rebel Carlos Pizarro, who was shot in 1990 by an assassin aboard a commercial flight. In 1999, Ecuadorian presidential candidate Jamie Hurtado was assassinated, orders that allegedly came from Colombian paramilitaries. In 2021, a pack of Colombian ex-soldiers were found to be involved in the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, thrusting the Caribbean nation into chaos. Colombian soldiers can be highly trained, including by the U.S. military. When they leave the service, they often struggle to make ends meet and make up a pool of recruits for companies seeking anything from consultants to bodyguards. Teams have guarded Middle Eastern oil pipelines and and have fought against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. In Haiti, the ex-soldiers said they were duped and thought they were traveling to Haiti to provide security, and were eventually entangled in the assassination. In Ecuador, an intensifying struggle over power and territory since the pandemic has seen drug cartels battle among themselves and enlist local gangs and even recruit children, leaving Ecuadorians reeling from unprecedented violence. The Ecuador National Police tallied 3,568 violent deaths in the first six months of this year, far more than the 2,042 reported during the same period in 2022. That year ended with 4,600 violent deaths, the country’s highest in history and double the total in 2021. Just last month, the mayor of the port city of Manta was shot to death. President Guillermo Lasso then declared a state of emergency covering two provinces and the country’s prison system in an effort to stem the violence. Video of the political rally posted on social media shows Villavicencio leaving surrounded by guards. He is then seen getting into a white pickup truck before gunshots are heard, followed by screams and commotion around the truck. Zuquilanda said Villavicencio had received at least three death threats before the shooting and reported them to authorities, resulting in one detention. Lasso declared three days of national mourning and a state of emergency that involves deploying additional military personnel throughout the country. Villavicencio, one of eight candidates running for president, was the candidate of the Build Ecuador Movement. In his final speech before he was killed, Villavicencio promised a

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